Dominican Republic 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: TECH REVOLUTION

The Dominican Republic is not usually the first place that comes to mind when someone mentions the words fiber optics, tech hub, or digital revolution. Historically, the country's economy has been based on its strengths as an agricultural exporter. Yet in the last decade, it has capitalized on its geographic location as a manufacturing hub and distributor. And when it comes to tech, it is only a few spots below Korea, Japan, and the US in the global rankings.

With around 25% smart phone penetration, only about half the population of the Dominican Republic has regular, adequate access to the internet, most of which is clustered in major metropolitan areas. However, these statistics and stereotypes are rapidly fading away as the country lays the necessary foundations for a technological transformation through a determined public-private effort.

One of the major campaigns laid out by the recently re-elected Danilo Medina government goes by the name of República Digital. This is the bold proclamation by the country's political leaders for their vision of the future of the Dominican Republic. This is the banner the country will march under as it attempts to revolutionize every aspect of society and the economy with the aggressive implementation of technological advancement. From elementary schools in the small municipality of Azua to the biggest public hospital in the capital of Santo Domingo, the government plans to put the latest tools of tech to work. Around 4% of the state budget is allocated to education. Initiatives like One Computer plans to give every child access to a laptop at school. This marks the country's ambition to leapfrog up the rankings in measures like literacy levels, quality of education, and internet access in schools. Going further, the government also announced its plan to build 5,000 free Wi-Fi spots in public parks, squares, and hospitals. There are other hopes in the pipeline of creating a system of electronic signatures to facilitate transactions like taxes and bus fares, digitalize medical histories, increase the transparency of online government records, and make SMEs more efficient through digital payments and marketing.

The private sector has always pushed the boundaries of technology in the Dominican Republic, but with this nod of confidence from the government, it is blazing the trail in the country faster than ever. The three largest telecommunications companies, Claro, Orange, and Viva, have each announced huge sums of infrastructure investment, totaling more than DOP18 billion. A significant portion of that will go towards building newer and better fiber optic networks, not only to upgrade the quality of connection for Dominicans who already surf the web, but also to expand coverage to many of those in the other half who cannot. With support as well from the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, the goal is to have 100% coverage in municipalities and 70% coverage of the total population by 2020.

If the words “tech revolution" only bring images of the Google campus in Silicon Valley to mind, then this might change once you are introduced to what has been dubbed the “Silicon Valley of the Caribbean." This united national effort to digitalize the economy delights no one more than Eddy Martinez, President of the Santo Domingo Cyber Park. The Cyber Park already instigated a tech revolution in the country when it started operating 17 years ago. This large industrial technological park hosts more than 20 tech companies, many of them start-ups, over 2,000 combined employees, research labs, smart homes, and conveniently, the Technological Institute of the Americas just across the street. This innovation hub incubates companies pursuing cutting edge products in 3D printing, virtual reality, drones, block-chain, and biotech, to name a few.

The Dominican Republic is getting all parties on board, including government institutions, large international corporations, and academia to seize the opportunity and accelerate the country into the future. With the successful implementation of these initiatives, the country stands not only to improve standards of living across the board, but also transform the whole business model of the economy and truly become a digital republic.